Monday, November 17, 2014


I hear so many good things about meditation.  So!  Many!  And let's face it, I need all the help I can get.  There is enough stress in my life that I've gained fifty pounds in a year and can hardly turn my neck for all the tension I hold there.   I have been trying to meditate somewhat regularly (i.e. a couple times a week, except for when it's a couple times a month, or three days in a row).

I found an awesome website called that offers free guided meditation in 2, 5, 10, and 20 minute intervals.  I can get the kids to sit with me for the 2 minute one, and on good days they will ask if we can do a 5 minute one.  It is easier to meditate when you are calm than when you are stressed.  (Is that irony?  Ever since people started mocking Alanis Morissette I've been nervous about using that term in public.)  A five minute meditation session usually consists of about 4 minutes of my thoughts racing all over the place and one minute of dozing off.  I've also read that going to sleep during meditation is a sign that you are hiding from the work you need to do.  I suspect it's more that I'm tired, but there's no reason why it couldn't be both.

But it still feels good.  It makes me feel like I'm doing something to take care of myself, what Beth Woolsey calls "radical acts of self care."    That alone is worth the price.  (Which is free.  I'm sorry, I can't tell if I'm being funny or just incomprehensible.)

How have you taken care of yourself lately?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Acting Like My Father

Years ago I saw a sitcom where one woman is accused of acting like her father.  "Oh my God," she gasps.  "I've been trying so hard to not become my mother--I never saw THAT coming!"  I laughed with recognition.

My words, my moods, my mannerisms--all my mom's.  Even the ways I'm not like her are defined by her.  "Mom would never let her kitchen get this messy."  And yet, my dad seeps through in odd moments.  My family sits down to eat dinner; I pop back up to turn out the lights in other rooms, and remember my dad doing the same.  I walk along slick pavement, and despite the cold, pull my hands out of my pockets "in case I fall," responding to a lifetime of warnings.  As a parent, I finally understand why sucking on the last bit of drink through my straw, or sniffing repeatedly without ever going to get a kleenex both drove him nuts.

My dad gave me many gifts. My love of mountains.  An appreciation for late afternoon's "sweet light."  Wanderlust.  He was a great model for how to maintain friendships and how to enjoy life's simple pleasure.  When I turned 18 he told me, "Vote for any party you want, but always support schools, parks, and libraries."  His quirks and talents and lessons are woven into my life.

As I started to learn about the concept of white privilege during the past few years, I've come to realize that I already was aware that it existed, because my suburban, middle-class white dad pointed it out to me throughout my life.  I knew his friend Nick didn't like to come visit us because in our neighborhood, he was likely to get pulled over for Driving While Black.  I knew that one of the only times my dad ventured from photography into writing was when his friend Max was mistaken for "a Jap" in a small Idaho town where they were covering a mining disaster, and was told to be out of town by sundown or be found face-down in a river.  (This was a good 15 years after WWII ended, and Max is actually Hispanic.)  My dad was outraged, and wanted to shine as much publicity on the event as possible.  He told me about attending high school in the late 1940s, and how the black kids came in the back door.  At the time, he figured everyone went in the doorway closer to their own neighborhood, but a few years out of high school, with a few years in the city newsroom under his belt, he wised up, and was ashamed of his complacent naivety.

"You know," I told him a few years ago, "some people think we don't have any more racism, because we elected Obama."

He sputtered for a moment.  "People are idiots!" he finally got out.  "Just because it's not a problem for THEM, they think it's not a problem."  Which is probably the most succinct definition of privilege there is.

Another time he sighed, "If I hate bigots, does that make me a bigot?"

He was a product of his time and place, as we all are.  He had his prejudices and blind spots, as we all do.  He strove to see people clearly, to value others as they are, and to not mistake his own experience for universal experience.   When he died last February, he left behind literally thousands of top notch photographs.  His more important legacy is what he taught his girls about being human.

With all four daughters at his 80th birthday 2012

Dancing with my mom at a friend's wedding ca. 2002

On a mountain climb ca: 1950

At an artist's reception 2012

Supervising my niece ca 1995

On a photography outing 2011

Us on top of Mt. Hood 1984

Dancing together at my friend's wedding 1990
This has been a "Finish the Sentence Friday" post.  The prompt was "The best advice my dad ever gave me..."  Link up here!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My Very Favorite Books

I spent much of this rainy Sunday scrolling through Goodreads, when I should have been doing housework, grading, or possibly even interacting with my children.   I was checking out the "best books ever" list and trying to make my top 100 choices.  I was consciously trying to include different types of favorites--classics, beloved children's books, the best book in my favorite mystery series, books that made me think, etc.   One thing I noticed is that some of the titles I chose recalled specific people and places for me--my best friend and I read Accidental Tourist aloud to each other as we sunbathed one summer in high school, I read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting sitting in a Danish windowsill during my college semester abroad, I listened to a recording of The Hero and the Crown lying on my bed for a few days in August while I recovered from a minor bike accident.  Much like the way a wine you drink when you are having a delightful experience at a winery tastes better than a wine you pick up at the grocery store, some books are memorable for more than the story itself, but also for what the story represents in my personal history.

There is, of course, no agreed upon list of 100 best books, and no way to even choose which books are my 100 favorite.  The top 50 or so would probably make the list on any day, but the others could be pushed off if I were in a different mood.  Still, if I had to commit to only reading from the list I developed today, I could live with that.

My top 10:

1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I thought I hated Steinbeck, and indeed, most mid-century male American writers.  The year I spent living in Riga, I got membership at a small English language library.  Pickings were slim, and I read a number of books I wouldn't have otherwise.  Two pages in, and I was eating crow.  This book is magnificent.

2. The River Why by David James Duncan
While I've only read The Grapes of Wrath once, this book I've read easily a dozen times.   It was definitely a case of the right book at the right time--I read it as a young adult, and it is a fantastic coming of age novel.  It starts out humorous and moves into philosophy without leaving any readers behind.  It's also set in familiar places.  I have loaned this book out repeatedly, and my beloved 25 year old copy shows how many times its been read.  I haven't actually re-read it in the past ten years or so--I'm almost afraid to.  The Brothers K, by the same author, also rocked my world.

You know why I love this book.  My favorite story about it is a friend of mine whose daughter read it in 7th grade, 10th grade, and then again in college.  "I've always loved this book," she told her mom, "but I wish they'd let us read the full version in middle and high school instead of the abridged version."  Her mom explained that she had actually read the full version all three times, but was bringing so much more to the story now that it seemed richer to her.

4. Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Oh, Tess.  This was one of my first classics.  Far From the Madding Crowd has a happier ending, but sometimes heartbreak is the way to go.  It is, of course, frustrating to read this as a modern woman, but if you accept that people do things differently in the past, it has that sense of tragic inevitability.

And again I go for the local author.  Le Guin has written so many books that I love, but the audacity of imagining a world in which gender fluctuates at each "time of the month" makes this one brilliant.  Plus, it's ends up being swooningly romantic, as two tough and private people let down the walls between them.

I can't believe more people don't know this book, and it's sunnier prequel, The Good Master.  War, anti-Semitism, courage, growing up--plus gorgeous illustrations and a look at life on the Hungarian plains.  Kate and Jansci learn more than children should have to, but luckily have wise and loving parents to help them process the horrors of WWI.  

So, Dickens is not particularly subtle, and this is probably not his greatest work from an artistic standpoint--or maybe it is, how the hell would I know?  But after being introduced to Oliver Twist around age 10, this was the next Dickens I encountered, the summer after my freshman year at high school.  We had studied the French Revolution, and here was this incredible novel about--get this!--the French Revolution!   I am a complete sucker for learning history from novels, and the book just blew me away.  

Sci Fi about a woman in a dystopian society who falls in love with a golem.  In other words, I can't actually explain this book, but I loved it.  Incredibly moving and fierce.  

More feminist sci fi, yay!  It's occurring to me that many of these books I read between the ages of 18-25.  I guess I was old enough to really GET serious literature, and young enough to be BLOWN AWAY by encountering it.  

Okay, so my 10th spot was a complete toss-up between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Anne of Green Gables, Far From the Madding Crowd, Angle of Repose, Snow Falling on Cedars, Martian Chronicles, City of Thieves, Blueberries for Sal, The Monkey Wrench Gang, etc. etc.  But this book contains a scene where the protagonist is learning about the atrocities that caused another character to flee Nicaragua in the 1980's.  She says something like, "I wouldn't want to live in a world where those things happen," and he replies "But you already do." It gave me chills then, and it gives me chills now.  Just because it's not happening TO ME doesn't mean it's not my problem.  

If you like the list, let me know--I can do top 10s in categories too...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween. Because I'm In Too Deep of a Sugar Low to be Creative.

I didn't take any photos of my kids this Halloween.  The first year they were here, I took a bunch of pictures BOTH times they carved pumpkins, and then of course of their costumes and their first trick-or-treating experience.  Last year we got a quick photo as we headed out the door, then a couple more as they sorted out their loot on the kitchen floor.  This year Oak did ask me to film him carving his pumpkin, because he was trying to make a "how to" video (since, you know, people don't know how to carve pumpkins...?), but I didn't get a single shot of them in costume.

I was feeling mild guilt about this, and then I thought--how many pictures do we have from Halloween when I was a kid?  I can think of one black-and-white shot of my mom and sisters lounging across my parents bed admiring me as I pose in my princess outfit--one of my mom's old nighties and a cardboard cone hat with lace trailing off the top.  (This also explains my deep seated prejudice against spending money on Halloween costumes.)  The only other picture from my early Halloween's is one of me at age 4 dressed as, I shit you not, a geisha girl.  There are so many layers of wrong to this costume.  I realize that geishas aren't necessarily prostitutes, but there is that connotation, which I'm sure my parents were aware of, right?  Then there is the whole, "Hey, I'm going to be Japanese for Halloween" aspect, which is so culturally inappropriate and offensive.  But I remember clearly how delighted I was that the black wig hid all my hair, and the face paint disguised my face, so that all the neighbors declared they had NO IDEA who I was.  Now that I'm no longer four, I suspect that between the fact that I was one of the only little kids on the street and that I would have been with my dad or sisters, people probably did know who I was.  But when you're little, being in costume makes you feel transformed.

This year my kids were a zombie and a vampire.  We took our 15 year old neighbor, who just immigrated from Iran last summer, with us.  He had an black and red belled jester costume, horrifying skeleton mask, and a fake ax.  True to family form, my kids were wearing some face paint and half-assed homemade/Goodwill costumes.  They were all awesome.  They were transformed.

This was part of the Finish the Sentence Friday blog-hop.  Link up at: Finding Ninee

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Great Front Porch Toilet Flush of 2014, or That 101st Cheap Date Idea You've All Been Waiting For

We live in a house with 3 toilets and 4 people.  This is a change from how I grew up, with 2 toilets and 6 people.  So when one toilet--in the kids' bathroom--stopped flushing reliably, we worked on it from time to time, but mostly just said, "Use one of the other bathrooms."  I gave my son a brief (thankfully) lesson in how to use less than half a roll of toilet paper to wipe with.  What can I say?  He comes from a country where the TP goes in the trash, not down the toilet, so he was never taught to conserve, I guess.

Then the guest bathroom toilet stopped working also.  Well, it would work with just water, but not much else.  So now the kids were traipsing in and out of our bedroom every time they needed to go potty, since the master bath had the only remaining functioning toilet.  This prompted the Winemaker to get more serious about fixing the downstairs toilet.  He got an auger and spent a good deal of time swearing at it, to no avail.

Friday we had my twice-a-year miracle, a day I am off work but the kids have school.  Yes, I went back to bed after they left for the day.  When I got up, my husband had made me lunch.  I was blissfully eating and reading, when he walked into the room and said, "You wanna help me fix the toilet?" and gave me a big grin to let me know that he knew exactly how much I did NOT want to deal with anything toilet related.  But I knew he'd already done what he could single-handed, and I did vow for better and for worse, so I said, "Let me finish my lunch," and then went to change into grubbies.

I was dreading it, though.  First, toilet--ew.  Second, the Winemaker is much more intuitive than I am about fixing things, and spatial problems in general, and usually winds up getting frustrated when I am unable to understand what my role is when we're working on something like this.  I am the person that NEVER can figure out how to rotate an object being carried through a doorway so that it will fit. He'll ask for a tool, and unless it's a hammer or screwdriver, I tend to say, "Um, can you describe it?"  It offends my feminist sensibilities greatly, but there it is.  I keep trying though, because I know that if he's asking for my help, he is feeling stuck on his own, and because I keep thinking I might learn something, or develop some confidence.

So there we were, in the tiny guest bathroom, and he got the toilet laying on its back.  Then he looked at me and gravely said, "We should probably put a sign on it so nobody tries to use it."

I thought of how OBLIVIOUS certain members of our household can be and busted up laughing.

And we were off.  I'm not saying there wasn't any frustration, but it was the two of us frustrated with the toilet, not each other.  

When we finally decided that the augur wasn't getting everything, we decided to carry the entire toilet out to the front porch and see if we could force out the blockage with a hose.  There's nothing like sitting a toilet down on your front porch to see if the neighborhood is paying attention.  We both had the giggles.  We cranked up the hose and blasted that sucker.

And finally...out popped a color pencil.  If we had approached this job as a miserable chore and a swear-project, the kids would have been in SO MUCH TROUBLE.  But because we'd been treating it as a joke, the pencil was just the punchline.  We contemplated putting it back in their color pencil box and telling them to guess which one had spent a month or more in the toilet.  We started making guesses about what could be blocking the kids' toilet upstairs.  We got the toilet back into the house without me getting us hung up in any doorways, and the Winemaker got it re-sealed to the floor.

"You hear that?"  he asked, and we listened to the water rushing as the toilet flushed easily.  "Isn't that a beautiful sound?"  We grinned at each other.

I'd thought that on our kid-less day we could maybe go get coffee.  How dull!  This took us back to the early days, when just being together made anything automatically exciting.  I remember the thrill of going grocery shopping with him, of spreading barkdust with him, of changing the sheets together.  The task is just a task, but the feeling of being on the same team makes it a good time.

So if you're looking for some unexpected fun with your sweetie--turn your kids loose in the bathroom and take it from there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kids? What kids?

Tonight the Winemaker and I realized that we had somehow forgotten that we have kids EVEN IN THE MORNING.  We both had plans to be away during the get-up-and-go-to-school part of the day. We both knew about each other's plans.  Yet we failed to make a plan for the kids.  We've only been parents for two years, you guys.  It's not like you can expect us to take our children into consideration when planning our days...oh wait, yes you can.  Hm.

I'm not sure what to say about how we got ourselves into this situation, but he is leaving town at 3 am to go pick up grapes in Eastern Washington, and I leave for work at 6:30, and the kids can't be at school until 8:00.  And while they have the technical skills to dress and feed themselves, and even to bike to school, they don't have the emotional skills to resist eating all the sugar in the house, beating each other up, and playing video games all morning, instead of getting out the door.  I worked out a crazy plan with my very understanding boss to bring my kids to work with me (because they would TOTALLY behave themselves sitting in a classroom full of older kids who are dominating Mommy's attention...or not), but a desperate plea over Facebook garnered an offer of support from a woman whose son played soccer with my son last year.

This is complicated by the fact that our daughters adore each other, but our sons barely tolerate each other.  Okay, I think her kid hates my kid, and Oak just likes her kid because he has cool video games at his house.  I think their boy is kind of a dick, frankly, which just goes to show how unfair life is, because Oak has a lot bigger behavior issues, but the fact that another kid would dare to not like him just makes me mad.

Further complicated by the fact that their daughter is as wildly unpredictable as my son, so when we swap kids, as we do, I find it enormously stressful, BUT sometimes they offer to take ALL FOUR KIDS, so I feel like a total parent wimp.

And now I am totally and forever in these people's debt.  It's kind of weird.  None of our family were able to help out, nor good friends.  Is it better to be in serious debt to people you don't know well, or to people you do?   It's kind of like the difference between borrowing money from the bank or from your mother-in-law (yeah, that happened this week too--we're on a roll).

Just had to share.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Goodbye, Summer. *sobs*

*insert standard apology/complaint about not having posted in so long*

I'm having less trouble than usual saying goodbye to this summer vacation.  I suspect it's because I was really lame and lethargic all summer, so why not go back to work?  Plus, after having a bad teaching year last year for a variety of reasons, I'm anticipating getting my mojo back this year.  I'm excited about my curriculum and my teaching team, and I'm optimistic about my students and my department.

But saying goodbye to summer itself?  NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!



This summer was crazy hot by Oregon standards.  I LOVED it.  I mean, yes, I did also discover that I'm more of an 80s kind of girl than a 90s kind of girl, but give me 90 and hot over 65 and rainy any day.  Opening the windows at sunset, putting fans in them, and flopping around on top of the bedspread until, sometime around midnight, the room finally cools off enough to get under the sheet--LOVE IT.  Wearing one pair of shorts day after day after day after day because they're the only pair that fit and nothing else is cool enough--LOVE IT.  Putting the kids to bed in sleeping bags on the back porch because their rooms are on the hot side of the house--LOVE IT.

There is so much I didn't do this summer--no lake swimming, barely any camping, no mountains, and due to the Mother's Day Bee Sting Incident (which started with me saying, "Stop freaking out, a bee's not going to just fly up and sting you," and ended with, you guessed it, a bee flying up and stinging my youngest child), I couldn't even get my family to eat on the deck.  But still, it was SUMMER, MAN.  I read 30 books.  Roses bloomed.  I stayed up late and slept in, heedless of my children's all-morning video game extravaganzas.  Ice cream was consumed.  (Do you like how I suddenly switched to passive voice for that one?)  We dug out the slip-n-slide, hosed off the more obvious mold stains, and kids frolicked.  I'd stop by my sister's house, and three hours and two glasses of wine later, we'd light a fire in her fire pit.  My husband developed a habit of picking up iced coffees every time he was out in the afternoon, and even more than the iced coffee aspect (which is pretty awesome already), there was the little rush of getting a treat from my sweetheart, knowing he was thinking of me.  Oak finally figured out the crawl stroke, Linden learned archery at camp, and I hosted two whole play dates.

Also--and please don't take this the wrong way, all you Mamas and Papas out there--I did not have to grade one single paper, and the only freaky kids I had to deal with were my own.  Plus, I could see a therapist once a week.  There is just no way to have regular therapy during the school year.  So, yay for mental health.

Now it's ending.  There is still the lovely golden summer light in the evening, but it arrives earlier and turns to dusk quicker.  Oak woke up early this morning needing another blanket on his bed.  The swifts have left our chimney.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to live somewhere that is warm year-round.  If I love summer so much, why do I stay in this place where we earn our sunny days with 8 months of rain?  Then I remember the winter I spent in Mexico.  As part of my grad school teaching practicum, I lived with a family and taught English at a community college.  My host sister and I had several variations of this conversation:

Martha:  (something about a barbecue)
Me: Oh, we have barbecues in the summer too!
Martha: Why in the summer?
Me: That's the only time the weather is good enough.
Martha: Really?  Weird.
(For "barbecue," substitute picnic, outdoor swimming, sundresses, etc.)

And while I enjoyed my Mexican winter, I realize that part of what makes these things so special to me is their very rarity.  Painted toenails in sandals wouldn't give me a little thrill if that's how my feet always looked.  Lemonade would start to feel passé.  I'd miss the ceremony of setting out the patio furniture and lose my deadline for getting myself to a lake.  This horrible sense of NOOOOOOOOOOOOO I get as August slides into September is the price I pay for the bliss summer brings.  Even this year, when I was dull and unmotivated, I kept turning to my kids and saying, "Have I mentioned I love summer?"

"Yes, Mom.  About a hundred times."

This was a "Finish the Sentence Friday" post.  Click here for more!